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Exchange With Reporters Prior to Discussions With Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada

February 05, 1993

The President. Hi, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International].

Q. Hi.

Prime Minister Mulroney. Hi, Helen. How are you?


Q. What's your reaction to the unemployment numbers, Mr. President?

The President. Better, but still too high: you know, at the trough of the recession, unemployment was 6.8 percent, lower than it is now. And now we've had 14 months over 7 percent, and I hope it's going down. But until we get it way down, there will still be a lot of unused capacity in the country and a lot of idle people.


Q. Are you going to have a statement soon on Bosnia, Mr. President?

The President. Well, Mr. Christopher is working on it, and we're working on it. I've spent a good deal of time on it in the last 2 weeks. But I don't have anything to say yet. It's a very difficult problem, I'm very concerned about it, and I have spent a good deal of time on it. When I have something to say, I will.

Q. Will that be a topic for this meeting, sir?

The President. We're going to talk about a lot of things. We don't have a typed agenda.

Q. This isn't the first time you've met, is it?

The President. Yes, but we've talked before several times.

Q. On the phone, but not—

The President. This is our first meeting.

Prime Minister Mulroney. And you were probably mentioned in those conversations. [Laughter]

[At this point, one group of reporters left the room, and another group entered.]


Q. Prime Minister, will you be seeking some assurances against the winds of protectionism in Congress you mentioned yesterday?

Prime Minister Mulroney. Yes, I will. I think that any time protectionism takes hold in the United States or Canada or elsewhere, it's bad for prosperity. It cripples growth everywhere. And so the President's a free trader, and so am I. And so I expect that we'll resolve the difficulties that we have, not in today's meeting but over a period of time. And so I look forward to the meeting. I have been very encouraged by my earlier telephone conversations with the President in regard to trade and other matters.

[At this point, a question was asked and answered in French, and a translation was not provided.]

Q. Mr. President, what do you think about the free trade of Canada? Is it important for U.S., do you think?

The President. I think it's very important for both of us. And I think it will have real benefits over the long run. As a Governor, I was one of those who took responsibility for trying to lobby the original agreement through the Congress here. And I hope we can complete the North American Free Trade Agreement, bringing in Mexico, making some changes that I think will be good for the Mexicans and good for the Canadians and the Americans.

But I think that if you just look at the last 50 years, the only way you can have growth within advanced countries over the long run is to have global growth. The only way you can have global growth is to expand trade.

This is a difficult time. Europe is in distress economically. Japan is having some difficulties. And of course, there will always be discussions among us about whether the rules of trade are fair or not. But our goal must continue to be the opening of trade and the increase in volume of trade.

Q. So do you want to reassure Canadians? Because there's a little fear in Canada about U.S. protectionism.

The President. Oh, I think Canada is our most important trading partner. I hope that we can do some things that will improve the economy of Canada. I'm very concerned that—our economy has started to pick up now. And normally when it does, Canada follows behind just by a few months. I want some of that growth to come back into Canada now.

One of the reasons I want to try to generate more jobs here is I think that would create more jobs in Canada. The more people we have with incomes and the more consumers we will have, the more economic impact we'll be able to have in Canada to bring that unemployment down there.

Q. What are the problems, if any, in the relationship?

The President. Well, let me say, this is our first conversation face to face. I don't want to dwell on the problems. The opportunities overwhelm the problems. And I'm sure we'll work through the problems.

Prime Minister Mulroney. Maybe I could just say, Mr. President, in regard to that, that our total trade, all in, is in Canadian dollars about $275 billion a year. It dwarfs anything that the United States has anywhere in the world. But more importantly, at the end of the year when you factor everything in, from interest payments to dividends, our trade is in rough balance. It is extraordinary that the largest trading relationship between two nations in history is in rough balance at the end of the year, which means that with the imperfections that we have, that we've got a pretty good system that is self-governing. And from time to time, the President and the Prime Minister of Canada have to intervene to make sure that this really remarkably productive relationship with both countries is preserved and strengthened.

That's what President Clinton did. He was selling the free trade agreement when he was Governor of Arkansas throughout the United States. So I'm very encouraged by his attitudes and his record in regard to developing world trade.

NOTE: The exchange began at 11:38 a.m. in the Oval Office at the White House.

William J. Clinton, Exchange With Reporters Prior to Discussions With Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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